If you're listening to Christmas music already and you don't live or work inside a Macy's, I believe very strongly that you're doing something wrong. Nevertheless, it is not in the spirit of Christmas (music) for me to shun you until the day after Thanksgiving, when I literally transform into Bing Crosby. I am providing these five must-see Phoenix concerts in the spirit of preemptive reconciliation.
Owl & Penny - Crescent Ballroom - Monday, November 4
"Burial Mountain," the first single from this year'sMilk & Sugar
, finds Owl & Penny zagging at the moment pop culture is finally in full zig. Pensive folk-pop is big business, now, but even when it's anxious the dominant form cultivates a comfortable kind of anxiety--the kind that eventually bursts into the acoustic-guitar equivalent of a Bruce Springsteen chorus. Owl & Penny is capable of that sort of thing, but "Burial Mountain" dips into another well entirely.
The careful riff that tiptoes through the whole song, the "she won't look me in the eyes" refrain, the drums that are the opposite of triumphal or reassuring--it's discomfort and doubt, the salaryman angst The National trades as they approach maximum Bullet Park. They've come of age, watched the bike lanes crowd with broken heroes, and approached problems that can't be bested or even approximated by a swell of handclaps. Two minutes later the album--the Tempe band's third--is over, caught up in the inorganic drum patterns and irregular heartbeats of "Skogurandi." The album came out all at once, four years after 2009's Fever Dreams, but in the moment it seems to start in 2009 and end, uncertain, at the edges of a new sound, one that takes an increasingly ubiquitous sound deep into the woods and leaves it there all alone. -- Dan Moore
Cut Copy - Marquee Theatre, Tempe - Wednesday, November 6
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For dance-driven electro acts, there's no grander feat than managing to stay "big in Brooklyn" while inching toward the mainstream. Melbourne-bred quartet Cut Copy has got the trick down, parlaying its steady buzz into one of the ultimate status symbols for a band, a headlining slot at the Coachella music festival. Credit their Aussie charm, catchy hooks, euphoric beats -- or all the Ecstasy their fans take before hitting the dance floor. The group's synth-heavy new wave sound has found a home in the hearts of discerning indie fans and those who learn about new music from BlackBerry commercials.
Songs like "Feel the Love" and "Lights and Music" err on the side of cheeseball, but the playful feel-good nature makes Cut Copy damn near irresistible. Phoenix DJs have made songs from the band's first three albums, including their latest, Zonoscope, staples at dance parties around town. --Nicole Smith
Terakaft - Rhythm Room - Thursday, November 7
Roots music - folk, country, the blues - has a longstanding fascination with "the road." The idea of an itinerant musician drifting from town to town - and stage to stage - is woven into the fabric of folkloric storytelling. But the music of Northern Mali, performed by wandering Tuaregs, forbidden by Sharia law to perform their electric blend of traditional Malian folk music, American blues, and psychedelic rock, takes the idea to another level: While balladeers may wander from place to place, the Tuaregs must wander away from their home if they wish to perform their music.
Led by bandleader Diara, who also founded one of the Sahara's other big wandering exports, Tinariwen, Terakaft is a leading light in this expat musical movement. Their hypnotic, trance-inducing guitars pay homage to their country's foremost guitar legend, the late Ali Farka Toure, but Terakaft is a most chiefly a new musical beast. Just press play on "Imgharen win ibda," from the band's 2012 release, Kel Tamasheq, for a clear demonstration of the band's modern touches. Like Bombino, another Tuareg who's made waves in the States and Europe (and whose latest album, Nomad, was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys), Terakaft's sound is utterly fresh. It's the sound of musicians willing to forsake home in favor of those other "roots music" ideals: liberty and freedom. - Jason P. Woodbury
Janelle Monae - Crescent Ballroom - Thursday, November 7
Gossip and speculation about Janelle Monáe's sexual orientation have been following the peppy R&B artist around since her career first took flight in 2007. In a 2010 Rolling Stone interview, she responded to those rumors without ever actually clarifying anything: "The lesbian community has tried to claim me, but I only date androids," said Monáe, whose signature outfit consists of a elegantly peculiar updo and a chic black-and-white tux. "Nothing like an android. They don't cheat on you."
Talk about a pitch-perfect retort: Those lines both played up the Kansas City-born Atlanta resident's role as a brassy, larger-than-life, capital-E Entertainer, and provided a sly plug for the Afrofuturist motif that's become her trademark. Sure, Monáe's most notable pop culture contribution to date is guesting on Fun.'s smash "We Are Young," but what's really winning her goodwill are her serious singing/dancing chops and her sci-fi-focused concept albums based on Fritz Lang's classic 1927 feature Metropolis. The latest document of Monáe's tribulations as in-song alter-ego Cindi Mayweather is the exhilarating The Electric Lady--an album its creator calls "a soundtrack for the Obama era, something that spoke to the beautiful, majestic and revolutionary times that we're living in." Hope has never felt so audacious. -- Reyan Ali
Lita Ford - Ovations Live!, Chandler - Friday, November 8
Lita Ford is a bitch.
Her words, not ours: She's touting the title track of her new album, The Bitch is Back...Live.
"I heard (the original song) on the radio and it just came tumbling down on me like a ton of bricks: 'Hello! Please record me, you dumb bitch. This is your song!'" she says from her Los Angeles home. "It was a no-brainer."
The Elton John song--revved up with nasty guitar power chords--in place of John's boogie-infused piano--opens the album. Ford says she typically opens shows with it, as it helps bridge the generation gap in her audience.
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"A lot of people from the older generation are familiar with 'The Bitch is Back.' I see it in their faces. They sing along," she says. "The younger generation have never heard it before and are hearing my version for the first time. I've got this whole group of people from different generations latching on to this song. It works." --Glenn BurnSilver